A warning: the first moments of Liasons, the most recent musical progeny of Bronx-based lovers Wednesday Knudsen and Clark Griffin under the name Pigeons, might make you want to die. Or at least go to sleep. Opener “Smoke” wastes no time in delving into a morass of reverb and languorous noodling; these folks seem to subscribe to the school of thought that holds psychedelia can be conjured with the push of an effects pedal. Then the flute comes in, with a searingly bland infomercial sound that’s likely the stuff of Ian Anderson’s nightmares. Then Knudsen’s unintelligible girl-child coo emerges from the heavy haze, buffeted by a distant drum machine. The amorphous cloud of a song grates, in its own way, as much as anything Merzbow ever produced. It’s less opium than Ambien. Its vacuousness can’t possibly be accidental — I trust that Pigeons understand precisely what effect their music is likely to have — but does that excuse “Smoke” for being so thoroughly unpleasant?
This initial misstep would be far less frustrating were it not for the elegance and quality of the majority of Liasons, as well as its abridged running time. For its centerpiece, the pair transform the Gainsbourg-written 60s hit “Laisse Tomber les Filles” into a lonesome carol. They tease the underlying desolation from the originally bouncy, horn-laden France Gall track with a cleverly harmonized vocal duo, tambourine hits, and frosty guitar work. Is yé-yé-gaze the next big thing?
The following track, “No Other Way,” displays a similar savvy. Here only Knudsen’s voice takes heavy treatment, sinking into the mix. A pure organ sound runs throughout, and the guitar has an altogether palatable brightness to it. Most striking is the way that Pigeons foreground a blessedly un-cheesy dual saxophone part. While the vocals come across as cold and alien, it’s these reeds that bear the majority of the composition’s emotional load. It’s a neat trick, and when the saxes finally drop out near the end of these six spacious minutes, they leave behind the album’s most mystifying moment.
“Pure” and “Trésor” fulfill Pigeons’ promise of modern chanson, the former adorned with percussive nylon strums and the latter sung in a louche French drawl as much Edith Piaf as Brigitte Fontaine. This duo’s greatest strength is the broad palette they’re drawing from behind all the requisite well-bottom production, making the album a diverse, urbane affair.
If freed from its albatross of a first third — or, better, if one were to replace these soggy selections with the band’s solid, concurrently released single Visions of the Valley — Liasons stands as a hazy pearl of a record, signaling that more fully-formed, consistent efforts from this pair may be yet to come.